Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: Hatred and prejudice against the Muslims has been rising in the West in the recent years, especially following the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, which some thinkers believe triggered a war on Muslims.
Muslims are increasingly becoming subject to derogation, verbal assault and defamation, and their holy book, the Quran, and their revered Prophet Mohammad are constantly being disparaged in the mass media.
Although a new wave of Islamophobia has begun to sweep the United States and Europe after the January 3 terrorist attacks on the office of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris, which were automatically and immediately blamed on “Islamic fundamentalists,” there are people who don’t perceive Islam in terms of the clichés of the media and think more realistically about the followers of a religion that has been an influential faith for several centuries now.
An Indian-American comedian and author says he was terribly afraid of traveling to Pakistan, UAE and other Muslims countries to perform shows for his fans there; however, his preconceptions totally changed after he got to these countries for the first time, and now he finds Muslims among the most appealing audiences he has ever had.
Dan Nainan is a stand-up comedian who has been traveling across the world since 2002 and performing for his fans in some 20 countries. Dan’s father is an Indian nuclear physicist and his mother is a child psychologist from Japan. His satire is mostly centered on his experiences as a half Indian, half Japanese citizen. He has performed for President Obama at a gala in Washington, and the president called him “Hilarious”. Dan has also performed for Hillary Clinton, Michael Bloomberg, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Howard Dean, Tony Blair’s wife Cherie and many other celebrities.
“Certainly those who are on the far right-wing, especially talk radio, which is mostly conservative, and correspondents on Fox News are among those who benefit greatly from a perceived threat… There are many in America who feed on and profit from hate and ignorance,” said Dan Nainan in reference to those who tend to amplify the perceived threat posed against the world peace by the Muslims.
Mr. Nainan took part in an interview with FNA and discussed his experiences with the Muslims, his viewpoints about the propaganda campaign against the Islamic communities and the reasons why artists and media personalities should avoid degrading religions and stirring religious intolerance.
Q: I’ve read that you’re a Christian, and based on your personal characteristics, as well as your religious convictions, you don’t pick on your audience, use a vulgar language and humiliate people publicly in order to make your performance more attractive. That’s why the media refer to you as a “clean comedian.” So, as a clean artist, what do you think about harassing people on the basis of their religion and denigrating their religious beliefs?
A: Indeed, my father is a Christian from Kerala, India. Despite this, as I’ve grown older, I’ve tried to become more open to different religions and cultures. I have friends of all religions – and those with no religion, and have traveled the world and been exposed to many different people, cultures and religions. I think this has made me much more open-minded. This is one of the many benefits of world travel. Of course, I’m totally against the idea of harassing people on the basis of their religion and denigrating their beliefs. Some comedians choose to do this, but I certainly never would – I don’t see the point of insulting people because of their beliefs.
Q: You’ve traveled to so many countries across the world, and performed for people of different cultures and religions. What’s your viewpoint regarding your experience with the Muslim audiences? What do you think about the Muslims you’ve met, their personality and their social traits?
A: I have performed for Muslims in the UK, the US, Canada, Qatar, UAE, the Maldives, Malaysia, Tanzania, Turkey and most recently in Pakistan. My Muslim audiences have been absolutely fantastic, and their hospitality, especially in the US, UAE and Pakistan, have been absolutely incredible. The audiences in Pakistan numbered as many as 1,400 – at the two Karachi shows, and the reaction was amazing. In fact, the first show in Karachi was so wonderful that I hired a videographer and photographer for the second night in Karachi, and I was rewarded by some of my best videotape ever. I was mobbed afterwards and I signed autographs and took pictures with those who asked for photos with me, which took 30 to 45 minutes after each show. And you know the best part? I know it was genuine laughter, because the audiences weren’t drinking!
The Muslims have been by far the most hospitable of all my clients. They treated me as if I were a genuine A-list star, even though I am not one. In Pakistan, the people who worked at the hotel’s front desk were asking for photos with me and treating me like a celebrity.
Q: As we read through the Western newspapers, magazines and websites or watch the US-based TV stations, we find the disparagement of Muslims a popular trend and an accepted convention. Why is it that a growing number of media outlets in the United States and Europe resort to disdaining the Muslims and amplifying the perceived threat of Muslims to gain more popularity and increase their readership?
A: To be truthful, I don’t know if the media is amplifying threat of Muslims to gain more readership and audience – I think we’re looking at two separate issues here. Of course the job of media is to increase readership and sell advertising, so I think that what we see in the media tend to reflect what the audiences want to see.
As far as disparaging Muslims, I think that what is happening is that the media and the US population see and read so much about terrorists, and they mistakenly assume that all Muslims must be terrorists, which of course is completely erroneous. If you couple that with ignorance, especially amongst those in the United States that are less educated about Islam, then this is a very volatile situation. For example, there have been cases in the United States where rednecks have assaulted and even murdered Sikhs, simply because they wear a turban, and thusly they were assumed to be terrorists. This is the height of ignorance.
Q: You told me in a previous conversation that when you were invited to perform a show in Dubai, UAE, you were afraid, because of what you had heard about the Arab country. You had the same feelings towards Pakistan and the other Muslim nations you traveled to, but once you got there, your perceptions changed. Why do you think you have had such negative feelings about these nations, and what had made you pessimistic towards the Muslim nations as a whole?
A: I was first invited to perform in Dubai in 2008. I have to admit that yes, I was a bit afraid. I think it was because of the misrepresentations of Islam in America and in the media discussed in previous questions. After I got there, I was really ashamed that I had been afraid. UAE was absolutely fantastic, and I have since done many more shows there and they have all been absolutely wonderful experiences.
The same goes for Pakistan. I had many people tell me how dangerous Pakistan is, but I also noticed that none of them have ever been there. Once again, I was afraid, but I had the most magnificent experience and was very ashamed that I was afraid. Certainly, children were killed in Pakistan, but as you recall, the same thing happened in America – you may recall the mass shooting at the school in Connecticut. Bad things happen everywhere, and wonderful things happen as well.
I have friends who tell me that they would never, ever go to UAE or any Muslim country, and I think that is awful and very sad. I’m extremely well-travelled, having visited 50 countries and performed in 20 of them, and I was afraid in the beginning. I can only imagine how a typical American, who probably doesn’t even own a passport, must feel.
Q: The majority of ordinary citizens in the West who don’t have a chance to experience life in the Muslim nations firsthand are usually afraid of what they expect to encounter in a Muslim nation. I think this is the result of a gross misrepresentation of the Islamic culture and civilization in the mainstream media. Is it really possible to debunk the myths and assure the Western public that Muslims are not dangerous and threatening people?
A: I agree with you 100 percent. Well, since Americans are so influenced by popular media, perhaps that’s the way to debunk some of the myths. For example, you may recall one of the Mission Impossible movies with Tom Cruise was set in Dubai. It seems that Americans must see a place in movies before they become interested in traveling there. For example, the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed in New Zealand, which led to a huge uptick in travel to New Zealand for Americans. Part of the first Star Wars movie was filmed in Tunisia, which meant that many Americans visited Tunisia. Similarly, many people probably want to visit Dubai because of what they saw in Mission Impossible. So perhaps this is one way.
I also strongly feel that comedy is a great way to break down barriers as well. Of course, I’m a little bit biased here. Russell Peters has toured the world – maybe it’s time for him to go to Pakistan. If I can go, then certainly he can! I’ve noticed that no matter what one’s language and culture, that laughter sounds the same around the world.
Q: As an artist and author, do you think there are people in your country who benefit from the amplification of a perceived Muslim threat and propagation of the fear of Muslims as extremist people? Is the reality of Muslims’ life, demeanor and faith compatible with the way they’re being portrayed by the mass media?
A: Certainly those who are on the far right-wing, especially talk radio, which is mostly conservative, and correspondents on Fox News are among those who benefit greatly from a perceived threat. For example, you may have heard about the commentator who was saying that parts of Birmingham are no-go zones where non-Muslims are not allowed – I laughed out loud when I heard that, as I’ve been to Birmingham a few times and found it to be a magnificent and welcoming city, whether one is Muslim or not. There are many in America who feed on and profit from hate and ignorance.
Q: Several controversies have arisen in the recent years as result of attacks on Muslims’ prophet and their holy book, Quran, by the Western media. As a comedian, do you find it a proper practice to ridicule a holy book which millions of people hold to be sacred or insult a prophet who is venerated by some 1.5 billion Muslims?
A: As someone who does clean comedy and would not want to offend anyone, I know for certain that I would never do such a thing. There’s so much humor that can bring joy and laughter to so many people – why resort to insulting others?
This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency.